The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Killby David M. Buss
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As acclaimed psychological researcher and author David Buss writes, "People are mesmerized by murder. It commands our attention like no other human phenomenon, and those touched by its ugly tendrils never forget." Though we may like to believe that murderers are pathological misfits and hardened criminals, the vast majority of murders are committed by people who, until the day they kill, would seem to be perfectly normal.
David Buss's pioneering work has made major national news in the past, and this provocative book is sure to generate a storm of attention. The Murderer Next Door is a riveting look into the dark underworld of the human psyche—an astonishing exploration of when and why we kill and what might push any one of us over the edge. A leader in the innovative field of evolutionary psychology, Buss conducted an unprecedented set of studies investigating the underlying motives and circumstances of murders, from the bizarre outlier cases of serial killers to those of the friendly next-door neighbor who one day kills his wife.
Reporting on findings that are often startling and counterintuitive—the younger woman involved in a love triangle is at a high risk of being killed—he puts forth a bold new general theory of homicide, arguing that the human psyche has evolved specialized adaptations whose function is to kill. Taking readers through the surprising twists and turns of the evolutionary logic of murder, he explains exactly when each of us is most at risk, both of being murdered and of becoming a murderer. His findings about the high-risk situations alone will be news making.
Featuring gripping storytelling about specific murder cases—including a never used FBI file of more than 400,000 murders and a highly detailed study of 400 murders conducted by Buss in collaboration with a forensic psychiatrist, and a pioneering investigation of homicidal fantasies in which Buss found that 91 percent of men and 84 percent of women have had at least one such vivid fantasy—The Murderer Next Door will be necessary reading for those who have been fascinated by books on profiling, lovers of true crime and murder mysteries, as well as readers intrigued by the inner workings of the human mind.
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Read an Excerpt
My research into murder began in earnest after an astonishing experience with one of my classes of undergraduates. Six years ago, I taught a seminar on human nature that included a session on murder. As an exercise to get the class engaged, I had the students complete a questionnaire asking “Have you ever thought about killing someone?” If the answer turned out to be yes, students were instructed to describe the specific circumstances that had triggered their homicidal thought, their relationship to the victim, and the method of killing that they had fantasized about.
As I read through their responses back in my office, I became mesmerized. Nothing had prepared me for the outpouring of murderous thoughts my students reported. These were intelligent, well-scrubbed, mostly middle-class kids, not the gang members or troubled runaways one might expect to express violent rage, yet most of them had experienced at least one intense episode in which they had fantasized about killing someone. As I sat in my office analyzing these homicidal fantasies, I realized that carried-out kills were just the tips of the deep psychological iceberg. Could actual murder be only the most flagrant outcome of a fundamental human drive to kill? I wondered. Do our minds really course with homicidal thoughts?
Pursuing this line of research, my lab went on to conduct the largest scientific study ever carried out on why people have homicidal fantasies, and the specific circumstances in which they contemplate killing. This groundbreaking international study involved more than four thousand individuals from San Antonio to Singapore, who were interviewed intensively. According to our findings, 91 percent of men and 84 percent of women have had at least one vivid fantasy about killing someone. The answer appeared to be, yes, our minds do pulse with thoughts of murder.
As I contemplated this finding, with the knowledge that the human mind has been exquisitely finely tuned by evolution, I began to suspect that these fantasies were the expressions of deep psychological mechanisms—of evolutionary programming—predisposing us to kill. Six years of near-obsessive subsequent research has led me to the conclusion that yes, the human mind is indeed hard-wired for killing, and that all the many kinds of murder—from crimes of passion to the methodically planned contract kill—follow the same deeply ingrained impulses. There is a fundamental logic to murder, which is ruthless but rational.
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Meet the Author
David M. Buss, one of the founders of the field of evolutionary psychology, is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of several books, including The Evolution of Desire and The Dangerous Passion.
Michael Prichard has recorded well over five hundred audiobooks and was named one of SmartMoney magazine's Top Ten Golden Voices. His numerous awards and accolades include an Audie Award and several AudioFile Earphones Awards.
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Well-written thesis on Homicide Adaptation theory which posits that humans have evolved 'homicide circuits' that are activated in specific circumstances. Buss does an excellent job of dismantling ideas from other disciplines and he DOES NOT make the case that just because it is in our nature that it is OKAY. Occasionally felt redundant.